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Minor interruptions cause fatal distraction

Girl with phones

Ever wondered how to minimise the effects of interruptions in the workplace? Research suggests that after being distracted by intrusions it can take between 5 and 23 minutes for staff to refocus and concentrate again on what they were previously doing. Not ideal in complex case handling like in insurance claims and legal services.

There is less distraction in well-structured environments where mistakes are made obvious and the work type and delivery is controlled in some way, but still there are often electronic distractions with a default position that everything is always on – email, telephone, texts, instant messaging or worse still, social media. Do you really need all this information? Simple actions like turning off e-mail alerts and making phones silent can help and some managers schedule blocks of time during which they must not be interrupted (unless there’s an emergency). Others manage the time people can approach them by walking the office (otherwise known as visiting the Gemba: where work happens). This has dual benefit of being visible regularly for people to discuss today’s work (hopefully before problems escalate) and allows leaders to observe the workplace and spot opportunities to improve.

Another useful trick is to check email only in the morning and evening (using the ‘out-of-office’ message to inform people you are doing this) so as not to be constantly scanning incoming e-mails and leaving them until later before actually dealing with them (double touching). Overall follow the best strategy that suits your own time management practices.

Schedule your day to suit the profile of your energy levels. Many people like to do lots of smaller tasks early in the morning when they are most alert before moving onto longer tasks that might require more creativity and concentration until later, knowing they have already achieved many things that day and that business is carrying on as usual whilst they are focused.

However, small distractions can also help alleviate boredom and tiredness by bringing welcome relief, variety and stimulation. Research also suggests people become more productive when faced with a small number of controllable interruptions as it forces them to prioritise more effectively. But, over stimulation and a feeling of over load can lead quickly to stress that is detrimental to health.

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